Martin Halstead

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Martin Halstead
Born (1986-05-18) 18 May 1986 (age 30)
Oxford, England

Martin Richard Alexander Halstead, born 18 May 1986[citation needed] in Oxford, England, is a company director and pilot who has founded two short-lived aviation businesses.


His secondary education was at Abingdon School and D'Overbroeck's College. He left school at the age of 16, without having completed his GCE Advanced Level examinations.[1] After a spell at Oxford Aviation Training, since early 2008 rebranded as Oxford Aviation Academy, Halstead decided that rather than complete his studies for a Commercial Pilot Licence, he would prefer to set up his own airline and focus on managing an aviation business. His favourite food is barbecued chipolatas.

Alpha One Airways[edit]

Halstead first attracted media attention in the UK in March 2005 when, at the age of 18, he announced the launch of Alpha One Airways.[2] Alpha One Airways never applied for an Air Operator's Certificate. Instead Halstead planned to subcontract the operation of flights to another carrier.

Alpha One Airways was due to launch its commercial services on the route linking Oxford and Cambridge with flights starting on 18 April 2005.[3] Alpha One never operated any services on the route, although from 1 February 2006 another small airline, Sky Commuter, for a few weeks had scheduled flights linking the two university cities.[4]

At the September 2005 B2B Routes Conference, held at the Bella Center in Copenhagen, Halstead spoke confidently of his plans for Alpha One Airways, remarking that "the reception here at Routes has been very positive. The airports we're seeing are taking us very seriously and want to see us succeed" and "We have more than enough money to operate without a single passenger for six months".[5]

Returning from the Copenhagen Routes Conference, Halstead then made announcements of new routes for Alpha One Airways, including a route from Cambridge to Bristol[6] and from Jersey to the Isle of Man. Flights from Cambridge never started, nor did flights from Jersey, but Halstead then unveiled a new plan for Alpha One Airways, this time working from a base at Southampton Airport and commencing operations on 7 November 2005 with flights to the Isle of Man.[7]

During this time, press reports appeared largely uncritical, focusing on Mr Halstead's age, his plans, or his personality.[1][2][8] A more sceptical note was sounded by Cambridge University student newspaper, Varsity.[6] In October 2005, it reported Halstead's claims that he had twenty employees (the company having evidently downsized from the alleged 31 employees of six months earlier[1]), who between them had accumulated "300 years worth of aviation background" and that he was due to take delivery of a fleet of jets. Yet the overall editorial line of the piece was critical. The article quoted Malcolm Gault, Operations Manager at Cambridge City Airport who described Halstead as Walter Mitty mark II. Gault is reported as saying "Believe nothing that [Halstead] tells you. He seems to have a big ego trip, gets a lot of people interested in his plans and then does nothing about it."[6]

After Alpha One Airways[edit]

At the time that he was endeavouring to set up Alpha One Airways, Halstead acquired a reputation for wanting to live above his means, a situation about which he spoke candidly in a Channel 4 documentary broadcast in September 2005 when he told of his "fantasy James Bond lifestyle".[9]

In an interview with The Oxford Times in October 2006, Halstead reflected on the Alpha One experience, admitting that he "had almost lost a sense of normality for a while." The newspaper reported that Halstead was working again, this time at a music shop in Oxford city centre.[10] Halstead became a director of the company which owned the shop. The company, called Delicious Music Republic, ceased trading shortly thereafter.[11]

Varsity Express[edit]

In January 2010 Halstead set up a new aviation venture called Varsity Express.[12] Halstead stated that Varsity Express had sufficient funds to operate for 6 months without carrying a single passenger.[13] Ten days prior to Varsity's first flight, Halstead also claimed to the media that his nascent airline already employed about 20 people.[11]

The new company started services between Oxford and Edinburgh on 1 March 2010 and suspended operations one week later, after Halstead failed to pay fees due in respect of the small aircraft he had leased to operate the service.[14] Thirteen passengers were left stranded because the second leg of their return tickets was not honoured.[15]

A number of allegations of dishonesty surrounding Varsity Express were reported in The Times newspaper on 14 March 2010.[16] The article reported allegations that Martin Halstead used a fictitious name to pose variously as both the commercial director and the financial backer of the airline: launched the business with a partner who was disqualified from acting as a company director; boasted of fictitious investors; and obtained finance for the business by asking four newly qualified pilot recruits to pay up to £15,000 each for specialised 'type training', which was never provided.

Mr Halstead stated that he lost £3,500 of his own money in the venture.[12][17] An investigation by the Thames Valley Police found that no criminal offence had taken place.[18][19]


  1. ^ a b c Wark, Penny (23 March 2005). "Meet the teenage high-flyer". The Times. London. Retrieved 19 March 2010. 
  2. ^ a b "Teenager launches his own airline". BBC News. 22 March 2005. Retrieved 12 March 2010. 
  3. ^ "Young entrepreneur makes aviation history by launching pioneering air service". Oxford Airport Press Notice. 21 March 2005. Retrieved 19 November 2010. 
  4. ^ "Another Oxbridge first". Daily Telegraph. London. 1 February 2006. Retrieved 14 March 2010. 
  5. ^ "A 19-year-old's airline dream". Airline Business. September 2005. Retrieved 14 March 2010. 
  6. ^ a b c "Oxbridge, we have a problem" (PDF). Varsity. 14 October 2005. Retrieved 15 March 2010. 
  7. ^ "Teenager launches airline". BBC News. 24 October 2005. Retrieved 4 February 2010. 
  8. ^ Iggulden, Amy (15 November 2005). "I'm baby Branson and this is mini Virgin". Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 21 March 2010. 
  9. ^ "Live Now, Pay Later". Channel 4. September 2005. Retrieved 12 March 2010. 
  10. ^ "Alpha man has landed". The Oxford Times. 19 October 2006. Retrieved 12 March 2010. 
  11. ^ a b "'Baby Branson' back in business". The Oxford Times. 18 February 2010. Retrieved 17 March 2010. 
  12. ^ a b "Police to probe Varsity airline". Oxford Mail. 16 March 2010. Retrieved 16 March 2010. 
  13. ^ "What's the truth about travel? Don't ask me". The Independent. London. 20 March 2010. Retrieved 22 March 2010. 
  14. ^ "Airline launched by Baby Branson grounded one week after take-off". The Scotsman. 11 March 2010. Retrieved 11 March 2010. 
  15. ^ "Edinburgh flights grounded a week after launch". Oxford Mail. 9 March 2010. Retrieved 19 March 2010. 
  16. ^ Foggo, Daniel; Foley, Martin (14 March 2010). "Varsity Express: Baby Branson's bogus business". The Times. London. Retrieved 13 March 2010. 
  17. ^ "Grounded pilot wants £15,000 back from Varsity Express". Oxford Mail. 17 March 2010. Retrieved 19 March 2010. 
  18. ^ "Police ground failed airline inquiry". Oxford Mail. 31 August 2010. Retrieved 29 October 2010. 
  19. ^ "Probe into Varsity Express at Oxford Airport dropped". BBC. 31 August 2010. Retrieved 29 October 2010. 

See also[edit]